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Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company employee records

circa 1897-1960s, 2.75 linear feet

07

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Tri-County Heritage Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Repository:
Tri-County Heritage Society
Creator:
Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company (Birdsboro, Pa.)
Title:
Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company employee records
Date:
circa 1897-1960s
Call Number:
07
Extent:
2.75 Linear feet
Language:
English
Abstract:
While it was open, Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company in Birdsboro, Berks County, Pennsylvania (later known as Birdsboro Corp.) was known as the oldest foundry in the United States, tracing its roots back to William Bird's New Pine Forge, founded in 1740. Birdsboro Steel provided products to the United States military for every major conflict through the Korean War. The company closed down in 1988 after a lengthy strike and the inability to compete with increasing foreign steel imports. Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company employee records, 1897-1960s, consist primarily of medical and salary records. There are also some patent records relating to the Camden Iron Works in Camden, New Jersey.
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Biography/History

In 1740, William Bird built New Pine Forge near Hay Creek's junction with the Schuylkill River in what would later become Berks County, Pennsylvania. William Bird passed away in 1761 and his son Mark took over the forge, expanding the business. It became the largest American producer of iron during the American Revolution. In 1770, Mark Bird established Hopewell Furnace in nearby Union Township. Creditors John Nixon, Cadwallader Morris, James Old, and James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence took ownership of the Bird forges in 1788. The new owners hired John Louis Barde to operate the forges, and Barde purchased the forges in 1796. Barde hired Matthew Brooke to manage the property, and Brooke retained control when Barde passed away in 1799. Brooke developed the business, supplying armaments for the War of 1812 and plowshares for farmers settling the mid-western states. Brooke married Barde's daughter and his sons, Edward and George Brooke, took over the business in 1822 after their father's death.

The Brooke family's holdings were incorporated as Birdsboro Iron Foundry Company in 1867, which is about the same time they begin producing steel. Later, the company changed its name to E & G Brooke Iron Company. In 1872, the Borough of Birdsboro was established with land from Union and Robeson townships. The borough is named for the foundry's original owners, the Bird family. Edward Brooke died in 1878 and his brother, George, continues to own and operate E & G Brook Iron Co.

The major transition to steel from iron began during the Spanish-American War when the United States Navy began to convert its ships to steel. George changed the name of the company to Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company in 1905 to reflect its new focus. George Brooke passed away in 1912. The company continued to experience growth, especially during World War I. In 1938, Birdsboro Steel expanded to nearby Reading, PA when it purchased Reading Iron Company's Scott Foundry. Around the same time, Birdsboro Steel opened an engineering division to focus on rolling mills and hydraulic machinery. The U. S. Navy built an Armorcast plant next to Birdsboro Steel during World War II.

After the war, Birdsboro expanded its customer base, selling its products across the globe. In 1960 Birdsboro Steel reorganized as Birdsboro Corp. Birdsboro's Chairman, George Clymer Brooke, was involved with a price-fixing scandal in 1963; he and the company were fined by a federal court in 1965. In 1968, controlling interest in Birdsboro Corp. was sold to Pennsylvania Engineering Co., owned by Victor Posner, in New Castle, Lawrence County. Birdsboro Corp. purchased the Armorcast plant in 1972, but failed to get a government contract for building tanks in 1975. After a lengthy strike and increasing steel imports, Birdsboro Corp. closed in 1988, two years short of its 250th anniversary.

In July 1991, the foundry opened once more as Birdsboro Ferrocast Inc., a company dedicated to producing large steel casings. However, the company was short lived and filed for bankruptcy about a year later.

Bibliography:

Lucia, Tony. "Birdsboro Steel: Building Products to Last Forever." Reading Eagle (Reading, PA), March 19, 2007. Accessed August 26, 2016. http://www2.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=54132.

Stranahan, Susan Q. "Birdsboro's Steel Giant Spews Forth Fire Again." Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), July 8, 1991. Accessed August 26, 2016. http://articles.philly.com/1991-07-08/business/25781885_1_birdsboro-ferrocast-berks-county-foundry-birdsboro-foundry.

Scope and Contents

Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company employee records, 1897-1960s, consist primarily of medical and salary records. There are also some patent records relating to the Camden Iron Works in Camden, New Jersey.

There are fourteen record books documenting employee hospital visits, 1919-1944. Most of the books record visits resulting from work-related injuries or work-related health issues. A couple of books pertain to non-industrial related health issues. The books are organized by date. Entries include the individual's name, date of visit, reason for visit, notes about treatment, date and location of treatment, and return visits.

There are notebooks and papers with x-ray findings for individuals organized chronologically, 1938-1942. Each entry starts with a number and date, then lists each individual's name and findings. A packet of papers covers the numbers and findings for individuals 1 through 284. Six spiral bound notebooks cover the numbers 285 through 1,977. There are also records that contain blood count results for only a few individuals. Some of the individuals have multiple results spanning a couple of years and others have only one or two results. Other medical papers in the collection relate to billing and medical clearance for people wishing to apply to jobs at Birdsboro Steel Foundry.

There is one box of Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company "Salaried Employees Rate" cards, 1940s-1960s. The cards are organized alphabetically and include the employee's name, department, position, date employed, education, place of last employment and position (if applicable), and salary rate per month or hour. Sometimes there are notes about probation. Employees may have multiple cards if their salary and/or position changed.

There are also patents and patent transfer papers, 1897-1919, from various individuals to Camden Iron Works in Camden, New Jersey. One of the papers documents a transfer of the patents from Camden Iron Works to Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company when Camden Iron Works closed, circa 1919.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

Tri-County Heritage Society

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories

Sponsor

This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Access Restrictions

Contact Tri-County Heritage Society for information about accessing this collection.

Processing Information Note

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Tri-County Heritage Society directly for more information.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials Note

Pennsylvania State Archives: Birdsboro Forge records, 1770-1842, MG 258.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)
  • Birdsboro Slitting Mill and Steel Furnace (Birdsboro, Pa.)
  • Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company (Birdsboro, Pa.)
Geographic Name(s)
  • Berks County (Pa.)
  • Birdsboro (Pa.)
Subject(s)
  • Iron and steel industry
  • Iron and steel workers
  • Iron and steel workers--Health and hygiene
  • Iron and steel workers--Medical examinations
  • Steel foundries
  • Wages--Iron and steel workers

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